« EelmineJätka »
Even in those ancient seats of learning, our universities, the final tests of religious opinions have been abandoned in granting common degrees. The factory education law has provided for no religious teaching. If we look to the practice in private families of aflluence, we find that usually the best masters are procured to implant the great and good principling of universal knowledge in the minds of the young, irrespective of religious opinions. Very seriously bas the religious element retarded the progress of veneral and public education in this country; but now the time seems to have arrived when ignorance must he diminished or removed, that it may no longer iaped the intellectual progress of the people of our e juntry, nor remain the costly charge which it now is upon the resources of the tax-paying and blast-!pporting subjects of the realm. More schools are needed, not only that fewer may be the encroachments of prisons and poorhouses, but that the beauties of truth and of knowledge may solace the humble labourer, and enable him to surmount all those difficulties of life with which he almost always has to struggle and contend. Seeing, then, that the existing teaching systems and institutions of our country have not banished ignorance, and that neither public nor private benevolence has amply provided for the removal of this great grievance of ignorance ; and also seeing that the state has the deepest interest in the welfare of all its people, in their morality and intelligence, and in all their social virtues; can any other deduction be arrived at than that a national system of education, with a responsible minister of pablic instruction, who shall be accountable to and have a seat in parliament, should be called into existence ?
No wise man, no good man, desires to see the beneficial and beautiful truths of our common Christianity withheld from the people of this or any other country; but, after the enumerated difficulties which
exist in forming an allied religious and secular system of public teaching for the young, would it not be just, prudent, and expedient, to provide for the people of this country a system that would retain to the clergy of all denominations the whole of the religious teaching of the age, requiring the state to provide only that secular knowledge in which it has a direct and material interest? The mere schoolmaster, generally, can only be an imperfect teacher of religion, and to place him in that position is to trench upon the duties of the clergy; but the latter, as if they had not confidence in themselves, and as if they did not possess the confidence of parliament in the performance of their special duties, call upon the forner to impart that religious knowledge for which he is seldom qualified. If the theory of imparting religious instruction in schools by the retention only of the Bible as a class-book be continued, one of the great existing evils would be perpetuated, doctrinal truths would be ignored, and only a vague religious knowledge would be the result, leaving to the scholar, without adequate religious teaching, no evidence of the truth within him. Indeed, it is seriously feared that the delegation of religious instruction to incompetent schoolmasters, has been prejudicial to the wellgrounding of the young, and of their due attainment in those divine truths which it can only be the proper duty of either the parent or the clergy to impart. An improved and national system of education ought, therefore, to be conceded as indispensable; and the questions arise, what shall be the system, and what can it be? Respect for the opinions of all, and justice to all the contributors to the public revenue, whether national or municipal, out of which must be paid the cost of any general system of education, reply--that a practical plan should be established, doing violence to no conscience, but providing a remedy for the benefit of the young, and without detriment to any section of the religious commu
nity. For the state to provide religious instruction for all would be alike unjust and impossible; consequently the religious teachers and the parents of children must be responsible for their religious training: and in this great and necessary duty to the tising generation, the rich laymen of every class need only to be appealed to by their clergy to contribute more extensive means for the diffusion of religious truths in accordance with the convictions of the several religious communities. Should not, then, the state establish a system of teaching, for every
deno. mination of children, the secular portion of which education it should only authorise to be paid for out of public rates, and leave the various religious bodies to supplement such a system by providing the more sacred instruction which they wish to inculcate ? Under the Factory Act, children can only be emploved by possessing two certificates-one from a surgeon for physical capability, and the other from a schoolmaster verifying attendance at school; and if the legislature wished to secure the performance of the duty of religious teaching, how easy would it be to follow the precedent in factories, and require a certificate, weekly or monthly, of religious instruction having been imparted to each child attending a free public secular school. If the cost of the secular portion of public instruction only were provided out of a national or municipal treasury, every man might support his conscientious and religious convictions of truth, without being required to pay for—in his own opinion at least-his neighbour's error. Let no alarmist fear that this would be a godless system of education. Guarded by parliament, and guided in its administration by patriotic and faithful men, it would, with the supplemented duties of the clergy of every creed, become a blessing under Providence to the existing and future children of this favoured land. In harmony with these views, there has been established in Manchester the National Public School
Association, the object of which is, as set forth, “to promote the establishment by law in England and Wales of a system of free schools, which, supported by local rates, and managed by local committees, specially elected for the purpose by the ratepayers, sħall impart secular instruction only, leaving to parents, guardians, and religious teachers the inculcation of doctrinal religion; and to afford opportunities for which, the schools shall be closed at certain stated times in each week.” This proposition has obtained the warmest approval of many influential communities, and especially in the great cities and towns of the kingdom has it been cordially supported. A petition in its favour, signed by 6,170 intelligent male adults in Manchester, was presented to parliament. To test the practicability of the important principle thus propounded, a specimen or model school was established in 1854. This school is perfectly free, and has perfectly succeeded. Reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, and general useful knowledge are taught, and the attainments of the scholars are truly wonderful. Many of these children have been as brands snatched from the burning,” and probably near a thousand of them, all from the necessitous classes, have received the rudiments of education, which will contribute to their own beneficial usefulness and to the good of the community. 350 children are usually on the books and in the course of instruction, 92 per cent of which having regularly attended. It has been most gratifying to find that 90 per cent of the children attending this school have also attended Sunday schools, and have otherwise received religious teaching. The cost of this scholastic establishment, including salaries, rent, and every expenditure, is about £450 per annum, or 26s. per head for each scholar. The master's report of the progress of his pupils, and other most interesting details, are in existence to prove the benefits which many wretched and destitute children have derived from attending this experimental school. None but the best elementary books have been introduced into it, the best selections having been made from the Irish, Chambers's, and other courses; and the remark may be offered here, that to the honour of all writers of books of instruction for the young, they have with common and singular propriety scarcely produced a work that cannot with safety be placed in the hands of the most ignorant. Triumphant as the practical and now proved advantages of this school are, the privy council has withheld all pecuniary and other support and countenance from it, though a simulated assent to certain prescribed forms would have procured the needed aid; hence, not only is a great, sound, and beneficial principle stultified, but the very honesty of its advocates has been insulted for the omission of an assumed aml impracticable sanctity.
Many eminent men have avowed the necessity of Sarrating religious and secular teaching into two distinct duties; and after witnessing the benefits arising from such a system in America, Lord Elgin, at Glasgow, in January, 1857, said that “education in Canaila was equal to that in Massachusetts. El-mentary education was there free of cost, attainahle by every child in the community, and on condiLions which do no violence to any principle. Every child might go on the same terms to the higher Srlool, and thence to the university.” And then, his lordship exclaimed, “If we can get all these advantages by going to Canada, why cannot we get them without going to Canada ?”
A wise legislature will decree that the teachers of sarted things shall be sacred men ; whilst for the artistic and material duties of life the man whose labours conduce to his own wordly weal or woe, and whose knowledge, or ignorance, of common industrial duties leads to honourable rewards, or to degradation, shall be provided with the means of acquiring